Born Malcolm Sales Yelvington, 14 September 1918, East Chapel, Tipton County, Tennessee. Died 21 February 2001, Memphis, Tennessee.
Malcolm Yelvington's music is firmly rooted in the western swing tradition. Born in the small rural town of East Chapel, he grew up in Covington, Tennessee and started singing in the late 1930s. His musical influences were the string bands of barn dance radio shows, Bob Wills's western swing music, Red Foley (his idol) and later Ernest Tubb. During World War II he was rejected for military service for health reasons. Around 1945, Yelvington got together with Reece Fleming, already a veteran recording artist, to put together a small band in Covington with steel guitarist Miles 'Red' Winn, called the Tennesseans. They played club dates on weekends and the occasional theatre or school house. In 1952, the Tennesseans merged with another local group, the Star Rhythm Boys. Their guitarist and leader, Gordon Mashburn, and bass player Jake Ryles joined Yelvington, Fleming and Winn in the newly-named outfit Malcolm Yelvington and the Star Rhythm Boys. The group started a 3-year residency at the Clover Club and gained a half-hour slot on Covington radio station WKBH on Sunday afternoons.
Late in 1953, Gordon Mashburn learned from a friend in Ripley, Tennessee, that the Sun label in Memphis had just issued its first country record, by the Ripley Cotton Choppers. Mashburn and Yelvington went to see Sam Phillips, who told them that he wasn't interested in pure country music, but Malcolm kept pestering Phillips and eventually a demo session was set up in the spring of 1954. Yelvington and his group taped several songs, including "Yakety Yak", but nothing from this session has survived. They returned in the summer and this time Phillips heard something that he thought he could sell : a mix of hillbilly and black music, in the shape of a countrified version of "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" (a 1949 R&B hit for Stick McGhee), a song that Malcolm and his band had been playing every week for years. This became their first release (Sun 211), in November 1954, but it came hot on the heels of Sun 209 and 210, the first two singles by a certain Elvis Presley and it's not hard to guess who got all of Sun's promotion. Malcolm received a royalty check in February 1955, signed by Marion Keisker, for the amount of $ 37.43.
In January 1955, Malcolm cut "Yakety Yak" and "Blues In the Bottom Of My Shoes". When Sam Phillips failed to release the record, Yelvington sidestepped his Sun contract and rerecorded "Yakety Yak" (not the Coasters number) for a rival Memphis label, Meteor Records. It was released in the summer of 1955 under the name Mac and Jake and the Esquire Trio, while the flip, "A Gal Named Joe" was credited to Mac Sales and the trio (Meteor 5022), Sales being Malcolm's middle name. It was an excellent honky-tonk country record, but sold only locally.
Early in 1956, the Yelvington band decided to take a more focused tilt at the emerging rock 'n' roll market. They demoed "Rockin' With My Baby" and "It's Me Baby" to take down to Sam Phillips, who was impressed. Both songs were recut on February 2, 1956, but held in the can for six months. By that time the hits that Yelvington mentioned in the lyrics of "Rockin' With My Baby" ("Tutti Frutti", "Blue Suede Shoes", "Sixteen Tons", "Bo Weevil, "Maybellene", "Jukebox Baby") were not so current anymore. When the record (Sun 246) was reviewed in Billboard of September 1, 1956, the tone was positive, but the reviewer concluded that the record "may not get out of the territories", a correct prediction. Yelvington, who was nearing 40 at this time, was never entirely comfortable with rockabilly, yet "Rockin' With My Baby" remains a very creditable piece of the new music. The more bluesy, piano-led "It's Me Baby" is my personal Yelvington favourite. There were further Sun sessions in July and October 1957 (produced by Bill Justis), which yielded the great "Trumpet" among others, but Malcolm never again saw his name on a little yellow record. Disappointed by his lack of success, Yelvington gave up his club dates in 1961, to concentrate on his day job as a pipefitter and welder, his bowling and his family.
He retired from his work in 1983, satisfied that he had provided for the education of his five children. Then, in the spring of 1988, at the age of 69, Malcolm Yelvington was approached by Englishman Dave Travis, who asked him to return to performing. Malcolm played rockabilly festivals in the UK and Holland to great response, backed by the Dave Travis band. Several thousand fans, many young enough to be his grandchildren, were gathered to hear him play the old songs (which he had to learn all over again!). The 1988 concert in Rotterdam was recorded by Cees Klop and released on his Collector label under the title "A Tennessee Saturday Night With Malcolm Yelvington" (Collector CLCD 4403). Between 1991 and 1997, Yelvington was recorded again, at the Sun studio in Memphis. This resulted in the album "There's A Little Life Left In this Old Boy Yet", released in 1998. He was now considered a respected elder statesman in country music and rockabilly, a late but sweet consolation prize for the acclaim Yelvington felt he had been denied in 1956.
At the age of 82, he died at Memphis Baptist Hospital, of a combination of heart failure, cancer and pneumonia.
More info : http://www.rockabillyhall.com/Malcolm1.html
CD recommendation : It's Me Baby : The Sun Years, Plus (Bear Family BCD 16757). His complete 1950s recordings, 28 tracks. Released 2006. Annotated by Martin Hawkins.
Acknowledgements : Martin Hawkins, Craig Morrison, Bruce Eder (All Music Guide), Hank Davis.
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